Radiation and Radioactivity

It’s Don’t Fry Day– Protect Your Skin Today and Every Day

Today is Don’t Fry Day, a day designated to remind Americans about the dangers of skin cancer and how to protect themselves. As we enter the summer season, we join with the National Council on Skin Cancer Prevention to remind Americans that each year more people are diagnosed with this largely preventable disease. Today, skin cancer is the most common cancer in the United States, affecting nearly five million Americans annually with a price tag of $8.1 billion. Most skin cancers are caused by overexposure to ultraviolet (UV) radiation from the sun.

The SunWise program works to educate Americans about the simple steps they can take to stay safe in the sun all year long. These tips include checking the UV Index to plan outdoor activities when the sun is less intense. Our free UV Index app gives you an hourly forecast from your smartphone. Seek shade during the sun’s peak hours between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. And, my personal favorite: Slip, Slop, Slap, and Wrap: Slip on a shirt. Slop on SPF 30+ sunscreen. Slap on a wide-brimmed hat, and wrap on sunglasses.

This month marks the 15th anniversary of SunWise. Since 2000, more than 58,000 educators have joined SunWise and used its educational resources to teach children about stratospheric ozone, UV radiation, and the health effects of overexposure to UV radiation. These educators represent more than 34,000 schools and over 7,000 other partners from state and local health departments, non-profits, science and children’s museums, camps, scouts, 4-H clubs, and universities.

I’m proud of what we, together with our partners, have achieved. As we celebrate SunWise’s anniversary, I am pleased to announce a new collaboration between EPA and the National Environmental Education Foundation (NEEF) that will extend the reach of SunWise and keep the momentum going. In working with health professionals, weathercasters, land managers, teachers and others, NEEF connects with millions of people and will be able to bring important SunWise messages and actions to a new and broader audience.

Today, we formalized this collaborative relationship with NEEF in a Memorandum of Understanding. I’m looking forward to a bright future for SunWise but some shade for me this weekend!

Editor's Note: The views expressed here are intended to explain EPA policy. They do not change anyone's rights or obligations.

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Indoors, Radon Stands Out

By Henry Slack

For the past twenty years, I’ve helped EPA fix indoor air pollution problems. Mold, odors, air cleaners, sick buildings, you name it – I’ve helped people learn how to manage these problems in their homes. The key thing I’ve learned: the most insidious indoor air pollutant is radon.

Radon is hidden and dangerous. We can’t see or smell it. The only way to know it’s around is to test for it. Did you know that radon in homes first drew concern as a public health threat after a worker at a nuclear power plant started setting off the plant’s radiation alarms? His home’s radon level was so high, he was carrying radiation into the plant. Yet he had no clue his home was radioactive before the testing started. The old proverb “out of sight, out of mind” holds true.

Radon causes lung cancer, second only to smoking as the leading cause. It leads to an estimated 21,000 lung cancer deaths a year. Some of my relatives have had cancer; it’s serious. The good news, however, is that radon-induced lung cancer (like smoking) can be prevented. Testing your home and taking corrective actions to reduce high levels is easy, cheap, and local resources are available to help.

EPA has been talking about the dangers of radon for decades. Lately, the group Cancer Survivors Against Radon (CanSAR) has joined the effort to raise awareness and help people take action to reduce their risk. Members share their personal stories about how high the radon levels were in their home, how they or a loved one battled against the disease, and how they want others to test for radon. Their goal: no one else having to watch someone they care about get sick and die of lung cancer.
 
Radon deaths are completely preventable. Please test your home, and fix it if you have a problem. Thank you.

About the author: Henry Slack from EPA’s Atlanta regional office has taught and helped people in the southeast with indoor air problems for more than 20 years.  His study of chemistry (B.S.) and mechanical engineering (M.S.) give him a strong background in the field, and he is active with the U.S. Green Building Council and the American Society of Heating, Refrigerating, and Air-conditioning Engineers (ASHRAE).     

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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Sunglasses: Good For Your Appearance And Better For Your Eyes

By Lina Younes

As the summer season fast approaches, we’re seeing more colorful summer fashion items for sale in stores. However, there is one popular item that is valuable not only as a fashion statement, but for its health benefits as well. What item might that be? Sunglasses.

We know that exposure to powerful ultraviolet (UV) rays causes skin cancer. Yet, exposure to natural sunlight or artificial UV rays can also damage your eyes. Long-term exposure to UV radiation can lead to numerous eye disorders including cataracts, skin cancer around the eyelids and other health issues issues. Cataract is the clouding of the eye’s natural lens. It is a condition that tends to appear in people as they grow older, especially after 40. Currently, over 22 million people in the US have cataracts. An EPA report indicates that cataract incidence is on the rise.

Even though we think of common eye conditions linked to the aging process, we should take steps to ensure a healthy vision as early as possible. Everyone is susceptible to eye damage from UV radiation regardless of age or ethnic origin. So an easy way to start protecting your eyes is by getting sunglasses. Read the labels to ensure that the sunglasses block 99-100 percent of UV-A and UV-B rays. Also choose sunglasses for your children, too. For further protection, you can also use a wide-brimmed hat with your sunglasses.

So, whether you’re headed to the beach, engaging in sports, gardening, or simply enjoying the great outdoors, remember to use sunglasses to protect your eyes. Just because the day is overcast, don’t assume that you don’t need to protect yourself from the sun. Those powerful UV rays can easily shine through the clouds damaging your eyes and skin. So protect yourself and be SunWise all year round. Good sun protection habits should be observed every day and all seasons of the year.

Spanish link

About the author: Lina Younes is the Multilingual Outreach and Communications Liaison for EPA. Among her duties, she’s responsible for outreach to Hispanic organizations and media. She spearheaded the team that recently launched EPA’s new Spanish website, www.epa.gov/espanol . She manages EPA’s social media efforts in Spanish. She’s currently the editor of EPA’s new Spanish blog, Conversando acerca de nuestro medio ambiente. Prior to joining the agency, she was the Washington bureau chief for two Puerto Rican newspapers and an international radio broadcaster. She has held other positions in and out of the Federal Government.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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Working Together to Reduce Radon Exposure

By Philip Jalbert

I am very excited and proud to be part of a small team of EPA employees that is taking on an issue that is important to me both professionally and personally. The project is unprecedented in that it addresses a serious health risk: radioactive radon gas. Radon causes lung cancer and kills more than 21,000 Americans every year. An aunt of mine died of lung cancer at 56 – neither she nor anyone in her family ever smoked.

Last summer, the Federal government announced a Federal Radon Action Plan for protecting families from this unseen hazard. It culminated six months of intense and collaborative effort among several major Departments and Agencies. We need more collaboration like this, something not seen often enough in the Federal government.

More than 20 years ago radon debuted as a public health issue when a nuclear power plant worker set off radiation alarms going to work – he had a very high radon level in his home! The plan is the first to take a coordinated long-term approach to reducing the health risk from radon across federal agencies. The plan will focus on the millions of homes and schools the Feds control or influence. We are hoping that our actions will motivate the private sector, state and local governments to take more action.

As a nation we’ve made progress, yet today eight million American households are exposed to more than 4 picocuries of radon per liter of air – EPA’s recommended action level. Last year about 124,000 Americans took action to reduce the radon level in their homes. America’s home builders included radon reducing features in nearly 17% of all new homes. r

We hope this unprecedented plan will make the radon risk more visible, spur action and help save lives; especially those of low-income Americans without the resources to reduce their risk. You can learn more about the plan on our Federal Radon Action Plan website.

I’ve been with EPA since 1983 and first encountered radon while serving the U.S. Navy nuclear submarine program four decades ago. My work on radon since 1989 has been one of the most satisfying things I’ve ever done. Test your home, the life you save may be your own.

About the author: Philip Jalbert presently works in EPA’s Indoor Environments Division in Washington, DC.

Editor’s Note: The opinions expressed in Greenversations are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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EPA Celebrates National Public Health Week April 4-11, 2011

By  Administrator Lisa P. Jackson

When we talk about environmentalism, it typically brings to mind sweeping vistas and wide-open landscapes. Some people might think of saving the whales, protecting spotted owls or preserving old-growth forests. Those things are critically important – but they only tell part of the story. When the modern environmental movement got its start in the 1960s, it took hold in our nation’s cities and was led by people concerned about pollution in the air they were breathing, toxins in the water they were drinking and chemicals on the food they were eating.

The effort to safeguard our environment started – and continues to be – an effort to safeguard our health.

April 4-11 is National Public Health Week, and the EPA is sending a clear message: Environmental protection is public health protection. It is family protection and community protection. It is about safeguarding people in the places where they live, work, play, and learn.

Each and every day, the people of this agency step up to protect the air we breathe, the water that flows into our communities and the land where we build our communities. These are things the American people expect and deserve – whether it’s the everyday protection of air and water, or a response to situations like the Japan nuclear incident, where EPA monitoring of radiation levels is keeping all of us aware and ready to respond if needed.

The environmental standards that EPA sets have prevented hundreds of thousands of premature deaths annually and provide the American people with some $22 trillion in health benefits. What those statistics really mean is that the buses taking our kids to school no longer put dangerous lead emissions into the air. When you pour yourself a glass of water, you can be confident it will be free of harmful levels of chemicals. And when you buy an apple at the store, it hasn’t been sprayed with arsenic-based pesticides – like they were decades ago.

This year, Public Health Week comes on the heels of an important advance in EPA’s health protection work. We recently proposed the first-ever national Mercury and Air Toxics Standards for power plants – reasonable standards that will require American power plants to utilize pollution control technologies that cut harmful emissions of mercury, arsenic, chromium, nickel and acid gases. These pollutants have been linked to neurological problems, developmental disorders in our children, respiratory illnesses and other costly health challenges.

The Mercury and Air Toxics Standards proposal initiates an effort that – through the commonsense goal of reducing harmful pollution in the air we breathe – will save thousands of lives and spare hundreds of thousands from illnesses. We estimate that the widespread adoption of pollution control technology would prevent 17,000 premature deaths and 11,000 heart attacks, while also avoiding 120,000 cases of childhood asthma symptoms and ensuring about 11,000 fewer cases of acute bronchitis among children each year. It’s an important reminder of the critical role the EPA plays in safeguarding our health and our children’s health.

Our challenge is to make these health issues a larger part of our environmental conversation. We want to establish the connection that clean air means less asthma, that reducing pollution in our water reduces pollution in our bodies, and that stronger chemical management means safer products for us and our children. That way, environmental protection can serve as “an ounce of prevention” to safeguard the health of millions of Americans.

[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kmtZqcimt0E[/youtube]

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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Alpha, Beta, Gamma, OH MY! Challenges In The Radiation World

Although I have been surrounded by radiation my entire life, it wasn’t until 2003, when I began my doctorate work, that I entered the “radiation world.” Since that time I have learned so much about radiation and realize there is much more to learn. I have also come to recognize a variety of challenges that exist in the radiation world.

Despite being surrounded by naturally occurring radiation, very few people really understand it. This is just one challenge we, radiation professionals, need to address. Other challenges include understanding the unique behavior of each radioactive element (or radionuclide), the various areas of study within the field of radiation, the multiple uses of radiation in our society, the fear of radiation, and the decreasing workforce knowledgeable in the field of radiation.

Some areas of radiation work include understanding: the fate and transport of radionuclides (how they behave in water, soil, air); biological effects of radiation (effects on human health); how to prepare, prevent and respond to radiation emergencies; how to set protective regulatory limits; and how to use radiation as a benefit to society (medicine, energy…).

Each radionuclide exhibits unique biological, chemical, and physical properties. What does this mean? It means that different radionuclides behave differently in various media (soil, water, air) as well as in the human body. Radionuclides also have unique radiological properties, such as the type of radioactive decay (alpha, beta, gamma) or the length of time they will be around before being transformed into a stable (non radioactive) element. Fully understanding the world of radiation means understanding all of these things for multiple radionuclides; what a challenge!

Another challenge is addressing the fear of radiation while improving the public’s general knowledge of radiation. EPA is meeting this challenge through various radiation education products like RadTown USA.

It will be increasingly difficult to increase public knowledge without the right staff. The number of radiation professionals is not growing at the rate it should be. More students need to be encouraged to not only study STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) areas, but also to specialize in one of the diverse fields of radiation.

As an Engineer at EPA, I look forward to meeting all of these challenges head on, learning more about radiation and working to get the word out about radiation, educating people about the role of radiation in their daily lives, and encouraging them to join the “radiation world.”

About the Author: Dr. Angelique D. Diaz joined EPA in June of 2008 after completing her Ph.D., where she studied the behavior of plutonium in the environment. Dr. Diaz is an Environmental Engineer working at EPA’s Region 8 office in Denver, CO, where she works on a variety of radiological-related activities, including regulating radon emissions from uranium mines and mills.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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Detecting the Undetectable: Radiation

When people hear the word “radiation” or “radioactive” they generally get worried. Radiation is something that people can’t see, smell, taste, hear or feel, but is real which makes it very scary.

At my work at EPA, I deal with addressing technical issues associated with radiation sites from cradle to grave, performing human health risk assessments, providing technical support to emergency responses, participating in the development of national guidance, participating in counterterrorism emergency response exercises associated with Radiological Dispersal Devices (dirty bombs), such as the EMPIRE 09 exercise in Albany a couple of months ago, and participating in public meetings to address radiation technical issues. I couldn’t do any of this if we didn’t have devices and instruments that can “sense” and measure radiation.

We use state of the art technologies for radiation site investigations and emergency responses. Some of the instruments are stored within our region. We can get larger specialized equipment from our EPA colleagues in Radiation and Indoor Environments National Laboratory located in Las Vegas, the National Air and Radiation Environmental Laboratory in Montgomery, Alabama, and the Environmental Response Team and National Decontamination Team located in Cincinnati, Ohio.

Such technologies include everything from handheld devices for surface and subsurface investigations, to larger monitoring vehicles like the RIENL Scanner Van and Environmental Radiation Gamma Scanner (ERGS), to NDT’s airplane, the Airborne Spectral Photometric Environmental Collection Technology (ASPECT). These instruments provide data that help us answer important questions, like those on the amount of radiation, the type of radiation and the location of the radioactive material.

Recently the ERGS, which measures gamma radiation several feet below the ground surface, was utilized to survey approximately 200 acres of land. This provided the project with both cost and time savings. The ASPECT was recently deployed to support the EMPIRE Exercise and also conducted gamma radiation flyover survey over two radiation sites in my area.

Explaining radiation is sometimes challenging, yet essential for public awareness. At times, the challenge is encountered because some of the audience is working off assumptions and has their mind set before coming to the meeting as opposed to others who are willing to listen and learn. Regardless of the different types of audience, I believe that we need to reach out further in educating the public in radiation because it is hard to understand something that requires special instruments to detect.

About the Author: Nidal Azzam joined the EPA Region 2 New York office in 2003 as a senior health physicist. Nidal provides technical support on radioactively contaminated sites, radiation emergency responses, and on the development of multi-agency guidance to protect the public and the environment from the harmful effects of ionizing radiation.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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When Technical Folks Don’t Understand Radiation…

I started out as a radiation “novice” and had to be trained; therefore I understand the difficulty in explaining radiation concepts. I always try to make explanations as simple and as accurate as possible given the complexity of and mythology behind radiation.

As a regional member of EPA’s Radiological Emergency Response Team, my role as a Regional Liaison is to enhance coordination and communication between my region and the rest of EPA’s responders during a radiological emergency. One of my responsibilities will be to help staff members who are not familiar with radiation concepts to understand them and to communicate them to the public. You might think that since many of our people are scientists or engineers, that they would already understand radiation. That’s not the case. Often, radiation is just as mysterious to many of our staff as it is to the public. That’s where we come in.

Unfortunately, most people just don’t know much about radiation. Our movies and comic books, which present radiation as being able to create monsters or superheroes or to be deadly in even the smallest amounts, have created a great misunderstanding about what it is and what it isn’t.

We had an exercise recently in which we pretended that a “dirty bomb” spread radioactivity over an area. One part of the exercise had people saying that they had “radiation sickness” (i.e. they had been exposed to an amount of radiation which would make them sick to their stomachs). I had to explain to our staff that this was impossible. The amount of radiation we had determined to have been released could not have created that effect – it was just too small. However, people could be so worried about getting sick that they could indeed have made themselves sick. My statements were greeted skeptically until I showed them the tables describing that radiation sickness symptoms occur at radiation levels thousands of times greater than had been released in our pretend situation.

There are many other concepts people need to understand as well, such as: being exposed to radiation doesn’t make you or your possessions radioactive forever; you can remove radioactive contamination by washing with soap and water; and that being exposed to radiation won’t turn you into a monster or a superhero. I think that Spiderman is everyone’s favorite character who got his powers from radiation. I know that I would like his powers, but I’m afraid of heights so I could only swing from short buildings!

About the Author: Shelly Rosenblum started out in Marine Biology and Engineering. The engineering took him to the Mare Island Naval Shipyard on San Francisco Bay where he was trained in principles of radiation, radiation protection and measurement. Shelly works in Region 9, where he began his work speaking to the public about radon and developing the Radionuclide NESHAP program.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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National Preparedness: Adventures in Radiation Monitoring

I love to climb up on roofs. I must have been a mountain climber in a past life. But, since I live in Chicago (where the land is about as horizontal as a thin crust pepperoni pizza), rooftops are about the only thing that can satisfy my need for altitude. However, this addiction to heights is a good thing, because one of my jobs is to get radiation monitors installed on rooftops around the Great Lakes.

image of a RADNET radiation monitorEPA’s national radiation monitoring network is called RadNet. RadNet monitors are near-real-time radiation monitors providing baseline data on background (a.k.a. normal) levels of radiation in the environment. In the event of a radiological incident, EPA will initiate RadNet’s emergency mode, allowing us to get a lot of data very quickly. We also have monitors that can be deployed to the immediate vicinity of the incident to assess the spread of contamination.

When we are finished installing monitors, RadNet will provide coverage for more than 70% of the geographic area in the United States. EPA has specific criteria for the placement of these monitors. In urban areas we often have to place these monitors on roof tops. I have had the pleasure of climbing roofs in Chicago, Toledo, Cincinnati, Milwaukee, Indianapolis, Detroit, Des Plaines, Bay City, and Champaign. But I’m not finished yet. I still have a few more roofs to scale.

I do want to say that – next to getting up on the tops of buildings – the best thing about the job is meeting all the great people who operate the monitors. State, local and tribal government volunteers operate most of these monitors. Without the great work and dedication of all our volunteer operators, the program simply wouldn’t work.

I remember standing on a roof in Cincinnati one very hot day. Heat waves were visibly shimmering off the black tar and my shoes stuck with every step. I don’t know how warm it gets in Hades (not yet, any way), but that Cincinnati roof couldn’t have been more than a few degrees cooler. I was working with folks from the health department and our EPA laboratory to get the RadNet monitor installed and operating. I looked out over the City of Cincinnati, wiped the sweat from my eyes and thought to myself, “I have just about the best job on Earth.”

About the Author: Jack Barnette is a senior scientist with EPA’s Region 5, Air and Radiation Division. Jack is a former Federal and State (Illinois) On Scene Coordinator. He currently is the preparedness coordinator for the Air and Radiation Division, and serves on the Response Support Corps and on the Regional Incident Coordination Team.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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Bike to Work Day

About the Author: Pat Childers is a Senior Advisor in the Office of Air and Radiation who has spent over 1/2 his life promoting Clean Transportation choices for the American public. Pat currently coordinates the Clean Air Act Advisory Committee and the Clean Air Excellence Awards and is the proud father of two budding cyclists.

Image of author, wife and two young sons on tandem bike

Bike to Work Day is Friday May 15, unlike many folks my decision isn’t to bike or not, its deciding which bike to ride. Some people think biking is my life. I seldom go a day with out some sort of spinning, be it mountain biking, commuting, or riding with my kids. I was named the Agency Bike Coordinator by Carol Browner fifteen years ago. I volunteer for an organization that teaches kids about the environment from the seat of a mountain bike. I met my wife through a biking buddy, and the first purchase we ever made together was a red tandem bike. I even teach a diversity class using bikes. While biking is a passion, it is not my life. However I do find that biking is a great tool, it is the swiss army knife that I use to get through my day providing me a way to solve many problems with one simple tool.

Biking is a great tool for exercise as you burn calories riding through the city or local parks. I look back at the 240 lbs that used to be me, and say it’s good to be on the other side of 200 now and I can thank biking for that.

It’s also a great tool for teaching almost anything. Need a math lesson, a bike has 3 front gears and 9 back gears…how many total gears does that provide? Please don’t say 12. How about history, sports and diversity lessons, the first African American World Champion in any sport was Major Taylor who was a cyclist at the turn of the century a hundred years ago, and Susan B Anthony said that the bike “has done more to emancipate woman than any one thing in the world”. That’s some pretty lofty importance to place on two wheels.

On top of that, the scientific importance of bicycling from pneumatic tires to the Wright brothers developing their ideas for the airplane from their previous job building bikes, make the bike one of the most important inventions ever.

But what biking really can do best is act as a tool for low cost environmentally sound transportation. For years I rode a bike recycled from the trash and the only fuel I needed for the trip was one peanut butter banana and cheese sandwich. If you look around the community you will see cyclists of every age, sex, race and socioeconomic background all riding for different reasons-fun, health, finances, coolness factor. Whatever their reason, they are all riding and they are all helping the environment, reducing their daily footprint by increasing their daily cycling mileage so to speak. I doubt that most think about the environment, the science of biking, or as they happily spin from place to place, seeing the world from a different view than commuters stuck in traffic.

Biking isn’t my life, but it certainly has made my life better so I will join the crowd on bike to work day….if I can just figure out which bike to ride.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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